In his 29 short years, George Jackson made an impact that is still felt today. He spent much of his short life behind prison walls, but, even from a cell, Jackson made an indelible imprint on history.
His activism and prolific writings made him a threat to some but forever endeared him as an irreplaceable leader to others. Here are 7 things to know about George Jackson.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Jackson was the second of five siblings. Through a series of life experiences that eventually led to his incarceration, Jackson became a revolutionary activist whose ideals made him a threat to the establishment.
Jackson was hailed as a brilliant revolutionary by those who followed him. It is a description still bequeathed on him today, nearly 50 years after his death.
One if his famous quotes is, “As a slave, the social phenomenon that engages my whole consciousness is, of course, revolution. Revolution should be love inspired.”
The mainstay of his Jackson’s brilliance was his ability through his writing to “make his personal experience universal,” according to his nephew, Jonathan Jackson Jr.
In the foreword to a reissued edition of one of his uncle’s most popular books, Jackson Jr. wrote that his Jackson had a “trademark style” which he described as “rational rage.”
He added that Jackson spoke to the times in which he lived, but even in the 1990s, when the book was reissued, it was relevant.
“George spoke to the issues of his day, but conditions now are so similar that this work could have been written last month. It is imperative that George be heard, whether by the angry but unchanneled young or by the cynical and worldly mature. The message must be carried farther than where he bravely left it in August of 1971,” Jonathan Jackson wrote.
Current activists also celebrate Jackson’s fearlessness and revolutionary prowess. Phillip Agnew is the founder of Black Men Build and the Dream Defenders.
“George Jackson … we call him ‘The Dragon.’ He is the quintessential, what we call organic revolutionary. He didn’t need to read the books, though he did, and he didn’t need to study, but he did. He developed his analysis and his perspective of the empire that we live in from experience like most Black people and poor people in this country do,” Agnew told Moguldom in an exclusive interview.
Jackson’s impact was so great, Agnew said Black Men Build commemorates Black August with him in mind. He added despite Jackson being locked up, he was still a threat to a racist and unjust system.
“When I look back at George Jackson, I see an unquestioning leader. Somebody who wasn’t afraid to put their theory and the things that they were reading about into practice; and someone who was so dangerous that he had to be murdered,” Agnew continued. “He was so dangerous behind bars – behind bars where you would think this person has no power or no impact – but behind bars this person was so dangerous to the status quo, to the empire that is the United States that they had to murder him. The people of his day looked up to him. He pushed us and he continues to push us with his legacy, his writings, his speeches, etc. to consider that the greatest of our people, our thinkers and revolutionaries, are behind bars right now and we can’t forget them.”
After being accused of stealing $70 from a Los Angeles gas station, George Jackson, then 18, pled guilty in hopes of receiving a light sentence due to a prior mark on his criminal background. He did this at the advice of his lawyer. Instead, he received an indeterminate sentence of one year to life.
Jackson spent seven-and-a-half of his 10 years at California’s San Quentin and Soledad Prisons in solitary confinement.
Along with W.L. Nolen, Jackson co-founded the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) in 1966 in response to racist and unsafe conditions for Black prisoners. The group ascribed to a Marxist ideology.
“I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me,” Jackson once said.
The Black Guerrilla Family was heavily influenced by activist Marcus Garvey and committed to Black Power, prisoner’s rights, anti-racism and gaining freedom and justice for Black people.
After Jackson’s death, Black Guerrilla Family lost touch with its political focus and became known as a street gang, much like the Bloods and Crips.
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Jackson and two other Black inmates, John Cluchette and Fleeta Drungo, were accused of beating white prison guard John V. Mills to death on Jan. 16, 1969. The guard’s death was deemed retaliation for another white guard, Opie G. Miller murdering three Black men without warning by shooting them from a tower in the prison courtyard.
After Cluchette was able to slip his mother a note which read “Help, I’m in trouble,” she launched a defense with the aid of a state senator, according to the introduction of Jackson’s book, “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.”
The men’s attorneys said they were targeted not because there was any evidence against them, but because they were identified as Black militants.
After Jackson’s death, Cluchette and Drungo were cleared of the charges.
Jackson spent most of his time in solitary confinement. During that time, he read and wrote extensively. He penned numerous letters that would eventually become the best-selling classic book “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.”
Jackson also completed his bestseller, “Blood In My Eye,” only days before he was killed. It was released posthumously.
“I’m in a unique political position. I have a very nearly closed future, and since I have always been inclined to get disturbed over organized injustice or terrorist practice against the innocents — wherever — I can now say just about what I want (I’ve always done just about that), without fear of self-exposure. I can only be executed once.”
On Aug. 7, 1970, Jackson’s younger brother Jonathan Jackson was killed at the Marin County Courthouse after he tried to get his brother and the other Soledad Brothers released by storming the courthouse with guns, taking hostages and arming inmates from San Quentin who were there for a hearing.
As he attempted to flee with the hostages, Jonathan was gunned down. He was 17. Jonathan was motivated to take the action after receiving word that prison guards planned to execute his brother on Aug. 10, according to an interview given by their mother, Georgia B. Jackson, days later, Black Perspectives reported.
“To the Man-Child, Tall, evil, graceful, brighteyed, black man-child — Jonathan Peter Jackson — who died on August 7, 1970, courage in one hand, assault rifle in the other; my brother, comrade, friend — the true revolutionary, the black communist guerrilla in the highest state of development, he died on the trigger, scourge of the unrighteous, soldier of the people; to this terrible man-child and his wonderful mother Georgia Bea, to Angela Y. Davis, my tender experience, I dedicate this collection of letters; to the destruction of their enemies I dedicate my life,” Jackson wrote in the dedication for Soledad Brothers in memoriam of his brother.
George Jackson was shot to death in prison on Aug. 21, 1971, nearly one month before his 30th birthday. There is still controversy surrounding the circumstances of his death. Authorities reported that Jackson was killed during a violent and unsuccessful attempt to escape. The uprising left three guards and two prisoners dead, including Jackson.
Jackson’s supporters, however, believe he was murdered in cold blood and the prison’s warden and guards made up the story about the uprising to cover their tracks.
According to a report by the New York Times, Jackson used a 9-millimeter handgun slipped to him during a visit by attorney Stephen Bingham to attack guards and force them to release 17 prisoners, who went on a rampage.
Legendary author James Baldwin wrote of Jackson’s death, “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”
Three days before he died, Jackson changed his will and left all of his royalties and control of his legal defense fund to the Black Panther Party, according to author Eric Cummins. Cummins wrote the book, “The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement.”